TANJUNG PINANG: THE 56 Sri Lankan asylum seekers on the Oceanic Viking are due to disembark today and enter an Indonesian detention centre where resentment is growing about their special treatment.
The resolution of the impasse has not yet been confirmed by the Australian Government, but the head of Indonesia's negotiating team, Dr Sujatmiko, said yesterday that his officials planned to visit the boat today to bring the remaining asylum seekers ashore.
''We are going to the vessel tomorrow and if they really voluntarily want to leave, then we will take them,'' he said.
''But if not, we will see.''
Dr Sujatmiko sent a message, seen by the Herald, to immigration officers at Tanjung Pinang, instructing them to prepare to accept the asylum seekers today.
It said: ''The Australians have just informed us that the 56 people are ready to come down; we will verify and evacuate to detention centre Wednesday starting 7.30am. The same process like last Friday, please add two more immigration officers and quarantine [at Tanjung Pinang detention centre].''
At Tanjung Pinang the 56 people will join 22 compatriots who left the boat last Friday, after a deal was struck guaranteeing those asylum seekers rapid processing in detention and additional resettlement assistance including language lessons.
The Herald understands the remaining group was not offered any further inducement. They were told of the progress of those already on shore, including that they had been allowed to make phone calls to relatives in Sri Lanka and that they had met United Nations officials.
A source close to the negotiations said the knowledge that those who had left the ship were being well treated, and that the deal struck with Australian officials was being honoured, was crucial to the final group's agreeing to leave the ship.
The treatment of the Sri Lankans has sparked tensions inside the detention centre, where other inmates are sometimes forced to wait for years to have their cases settled.
''We are not angry, not jealous,'' said Chandra, a Tamil, who has been in the centre for seven months.
''They are also Sri Lankans. But we wait for many months. Still nobody has come for us. What will Australia do for us? We [would] also like to go there.''
After days of government denials that the group had been offered ''special treatment'', the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, conceded yesterday the deal offered to those on board the Oceanic Viking was ''a special, almost unique, circumstance''. This was because the asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian ship, but in Indonesia's search and rescue zone.
The Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, yesterday scaled back accusations that the Prime Minister misled Parliament over any special deal.
Mr Turnbull recast his complaint yesterday, from Kevin Rudd knowingly sanctioning a fast-tracked deal, to whether that deal amounted to preferential treatment.
''The only charge of misleading that I have made against the Prime Minister relates to his claim that a preferential deal was not preferential,'' Mr Turnbull said.
''Mr Rudd's attempt to say it isn't is completely and utterly unconvincing.''
with Yuko Narushima and AAP
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